The singer from legendary Manchester indie-dance band Happy Mondays is in a jovial mood when DJ Mag calls him up at home. The once-notorious hellraiser is a reformed character these days, and as if to demonstrate his new-found energy he’s reformed his post-Mondays band Black Grape and has made a solo album too, as well as celebrating 25 years since seminal Happy Mondays album ‘Pills N’ Thrills N’ Bellyaches’ came out this autumn…
Hey Shaun, your new solo single ‘Close the Dam’ reminds me a bit of your track ‘Dare’ with Gorillaz but also has some Mondays swagger about it. Is there more solo stuff to follow?
“Yeah, well basically sometime next year we’ll drop the album. Those two tracks so far are what we’re leaking out as singles. How come I’ve done a solo album? Cos I felt like doing one.”
Who have you worked with on it?
“The guy I did the last Mondays album with in 2006 — Sunny Levine. He comes from a big long line of producers in the family, his dad’s Steve Levine who did everything from Dr John, Womack & Womack, BB King, and then his grandad’s Quincy Jones — so he comes from a great family, and he’s a real good pal.
"We got on really well doing that Mondays one, so he was a good choice for this. He lives on Venice Beach in LA — we did half the album in Venice and half in Manchester.”
How come you’ve decided to reform Black Grape now?
“Well, someone from the record or publishing company reminded me that it was 20 years since [first album] ‘Great When You’re Straight’. About three years ago I did a Black Grape show in Brixton — Kermit wasn’t with us, I got Tonn Piper from the drum & bass scene in.
"I’d been keeping my eye on Kermit, bumping into him at various gigs over the years, and the last time I bumped into him he seemed to have really got his shit together and was in a really good place. So I thought — you know what? Let’s do it. Seeing as I’ve got boundless energy now, cos I have a testosterone shot in my arse every three months, there’s not enough hours in the day now.”
In the mid-‘90s you were going great guns with Black Grape, and then you split up — what happened there?
“Well, y’know, we’ve all got our own stories on that, but my story is that Kermit and Carl [McCarthy] — the other kid who was with us — thought ‘Let’s get rid of him and we’ll become Biggie and Tupac’, so we had a big falling out. Of course, it was totally different back then, now the sex and drugs has gone and it’s just the rock & roll.
"That bullshit argumentative stuff that comes with being young has all gone. It was madness — we just carried on from the Mondays, like being on a hamster’s wheel. Shows, writing albums, studio… it all fell to bits, went tits up.”
With the Mondays a lot of media attention was focused on your drug-taking, but what was overlooked was what a fucking great original working class band you were. Were you under-appreciated as a songwriter?
“Not really, I was a guy in an indie band who wrote good songs. I get asked if the drug thing overshadowed it, but the thing is — as you know — to break through in this game, it’s like being a professional footballer. It’s one out of millions that get through. When we’d started coming up with the Mondays, it had turned into 1976 again — the music game had got fucking boring. No disrespect to Rick Astley, but they’d all become Rick Astley and if you was caught with a spliff you couldn’t release your record.
“What we did with the Mondays is we wanted to bring what I grew up with, which was like rock & roll cartoon stories and the whole shit that went with it with The Stones and The Beatles and The Doors and The Pistols — we wanted to bring all that back.
"That meant letting the press in to see us smoking, taking drugs, partying — and use that. Nobody would speak to Piers Morgan at the time, who had the Bizarre column [in The Sun], and we brought Piers onboard as a friend and he took us into the fucking Red Tops. We used that — and people still talk about that now.
"So am I bothered that it was overshadowed with drugs? No, it was part of the game. What else can you do when you’re young? You’ve got a long life, and then before you know it you wake up and you’re fifty-odd years old. You might as well party when you’re young!”
But you’ve got a different drug of choice now, haven’t you? What is that exactly?
“Me? Oh god, well I wouldn’t say it’s CHOICE! I have to have testosterone injections, like I also have to take Thyroxine for my thyroid condition. If I didn’t take my Thyroxine I would probably go into a coma and die, and if I didn’t have the testosterone injection I literally wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.
"When you’ve got no testosterone and no thyroid, you really do feel like you’re carrying bags of coal around with you. And then once you start having those injections, you just feel like you’re 21 again. It brings back a spring in your step.”
You’ve done a whole series of programmes about UFOs, haven’t you?
“Yeah, I did a TV show, it was a seven- or eight-parter, it went out on the History Channel, you can watch it on Netflix if you’ve got that. And I’ve just actually got back from the Amazon jungle where we was with an indigenous tribe of natives who are a tribe of drummers and percussion players.
"We went and lived with ‘em, hunted with ‘em, and then we made music with them. The night that that goes out on the telly, you can download the tune on iTunes, and all the money goes to the tribe so that they can keep on living that way of life. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Sounds wicked, did they have any bizarre rituals that they got you involved with?
“What, you mean like taking hallucinogenics? Well, Bez did, one of us had to have a go, and seeing as I had to do some filming the next day, I let Bez take the hallucinogenics — it was really funny. It transmits in September.”
You believe in UFOs, I take it — have you seen any yourself?
“I have, yeah. It’s a bit mad to think that we are the only species in the universe. And I have seen a few things, not on drugs, I may add! On the TV show that we did, we went to Chile and their military over there aren’t like ours here, they said ‘Come in and look at all the film that we’ve got’, and they’ve got some stuff there that they show ya. While we were filming, talking to the air force people and that, there’s this thing to the back of us flying about and zigzagging at ten thousand miles an hour.”
What do the aliens flying the UFOs look like?
“One of the things over there that the air force showed me, that they had on film, was — coming from the sky — what looked like… you know the stormtroopers in Star Wars? They looked like those guys coming down in the sky on pogo sticks! They come down out of the sky, get to a certain level, and these things realise that they’re being filmed, so they go back up and just disappear. They look like Darth Vader on pogo sticks coming to the ground.”
Bez stood in the election recently, didn’t he — were you in his constituency?
“Actually, yeah. I didn’t vote for him, though. No, I’m not gonna waste a vote. He got 700. But good on him, he loves doing it, and I’ll support him and do benefit things for him — he really takes it serious, and it keeps him out of trouble.”
I thought it could’ve been great to have him in the House Of Commons…
“Oh yeah, it would. The only thing with Bez though is some of his policies, like ‘Get rid of the police force’ and ‘We don’t pay tax’. It’s a bit mad, innit? How’s anything gonna be funded? I’ve no idea, I don’t know. I don’t think Bez does, I’m sure he doesn’t.”
His dad was a copper, wasn’t he?
“His dad was, yeah. That’s part of the reason for his hatred of authority and the police.”
He’s probably come across the police being a bit heavy-handed on anti-fracking demos and stuff though, maybe?
“Probably. Not as heavy-handed as him, though!”
Ha ha, Bez doesn’t strike me as being particularly heavy-handed…
What are you saying, Shaun?
“I’m not saying anything. How often do I speak to Bez? Quite a lot really, I work with him quite a lot. It’s like a sexless marriage.”